How to Use Four Sequences to Get Through Act 2

(Instead of getting lost)


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by Naomi Write + Co. in pre-writing, screenplay structure, screenwriting

As you may have experienced yourself, Act 2 is where you’re most likely to abandon writing your screenplay.

Why? My theory is that Act 2 is the part of the script you’ve likely thought about in the least detail, even though it really IS the movie.

That’s where sequences come in. Breaking Act 2 into smaller, more manageable chunks offers guidance while you’re writing and a way to test what you have.

Thinking in sequences is a way to make sure the story evolves and escalates over the course of Act 2, so you can avoid the one-note script (where it feels stagnant, or like you’re hitting the same beat over and over). And sequences make it easy to double-check whether you have enough story beats at all, before you write a whole script only to find you’re 50 pages short of a feature.

But a lot of writers still approach Act 2 as one big swath of story. This can make writing it feel daunting or become a slog to get through.

Sequences provide a map to find your way through Act 2

If you approach Act 2 – the bulk of your screenplay – as one big collection of events or plot points, writing those pages may still feel like wandering around in the dark.

Instead, organizing the story into sequences causes you to think more deliberately about the order and progression of events. It’ll also help you maintain a strong throughline, meaning you’ll be less likely to write yourself into an unproductive tangent.

When you lose your way – as is so common in Act 2 – not having a solid plan to fall back on makes it all too easy to give up. And what good is a half-finished script?

So let’s talk about how to use sequences to write your screenplay.

What are the four sequences of Act 2?

A sequence is a series of scenes which tell a mini story, a part of the larger story of your screenplay.

Like any good story, a sequence has a beginning, middle, and end, aka the setup, escalation, resolution. There’s a line of action created by someone pursuing something. There’s opposition and obstacles. And sequences in a screenplay build on each other and benefit from the context that’s created by sequences that came before.

Part of my outlining process is to break the whole story over eight sequences (but you can use sequences as a tool whether you outline or not).

Today we’ll focus on just the sequences that make up Act 2. To avoid confusion, I’ll label the four sequences of Act 2 with letters:

    • Sequence A starts at the Break into Act 2 and lasts about the first quarter of Act 2
    • Sequence B picks up there and ends with the Midpoint
    • Sequence C launches off of the Midpoint and takes us another quarter of Act 2
    • Sequence D goes from there, through the low point, and ends with the Break into Act 3

If it helps, you can think of the sequences of Act 2 as four steps that take the protagonist from the big plot point at the Break into Act 2 to the big plot point at the Break into Act 3.

Act 2 sequences in Shaun of the Dead

If we look at the movie Shaun of the Dead, the Break into Act 2 is when Shaun begins the Act 2 Adventure of “sorting out” his life. Though he doesn’t know it yet, this means surviving the zombie invasion.

The four steps of Shaun’s Act 2 Adventure are:

    • (A) Shaun learns the “rules” of dealing with zombies.
    • (B) Shaun forms and embarks on a plan to round up his loved ones and get them to safety.
    • (C) They race across town toward their favorite pub, which will be their safe house.
    • (D) They must make it through a zombie horde on foot, and remain unnoticed once inside the pub.

So you can see how identifying the four parts that make up your Act 2, even at this fairly broad level, can help you get through what can be an intimidatingly large section of story. Breaking Act 2 up like this gives you direction and a roadmap (however loose you’d like to keep it) to help you get through Act 2 without abandoning your script.

How to build a sequence

Okay, so you want to use sequences to build out the middle of your screenplay. But how do you come up with the four steps that make up Act 2? As usual, you start with the essentials:

    • Protagonist
    • Goal
    • Antagonist / Opposition
    • Stakes

The essentials form the main conflict we’re tracking in the story. When you come at each sequence with the essentials first, you’re making sure we can see the main conflict playing out in each step. Each sequence advances the main conflict. This creates a strong throughline in your screenplay.

Since all the sequences connect to that throughline, the story feels cohesive and doesn’t fall apart or forget what it’s doing somewhere in the middle.

But don’t forget to escalate

Of course, a set of linear steps from Point A to Point B will get us to the destination, but will it keep us hooked? To maintain the audience’s interest, we need a more exciting ride.

As you’re planning out the four steps, look at how the essentials escalate. Escalating ensures you’re not hitting the same note over and over.

We’re talking about:

    • Increasing opposition, which intensifies the conflict by making it harder for the protagonist to achieve his goal, and/or
    • Raising the stakes, which essentially means that achieving the goal becomes more important or meaningful. So, something happens that threatens or escalates what’s at stake in the story, and afterward the protagonist needs or wants to succeed even more than he did before.

Escalating the conflict and/or stakes makes the audience re-engage and re-invest in the story. When we’re constantly engaged, we’re leaning in to find out what happens next – which is exactly where you want us.

Thinking about Act 2 in four steps (e.g. sequences) isn’t a requirement, of course. No rules here. But it is a tool that you can use to build a better, more effective Act 2. Sequences can help you:

    • Tackle Act 2 without getting lost or stuck with writer’s block
    • Write a screenplay that’s more focused and cohesive, and
    • Keep your audience invested and emotionally engaged .

Act 2 can be daunting, but sequences can help you get through it without getting stuck, so you can actually finish that screenplay.


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.